Defend Our Future condemns proposed rollback on mercury standards

Dorina Vida

Climate action group Defend Our Future held a press conference at Colorado State University Thursday afternoon to discuss the proposed rollback of the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

According to Seth Harrison, CSU director of Defend Our Future, the purpose of the press conference was to inform the community of Fort Collins on the consequences of this rollback should it proceed and the negative impacts on the public health of women, children, low-income populations, and communities of color. 

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In December 2018, the Trump Administration made public their plan to discard MATS, a plan that was initially put into place to decrease the amount of mercury and other air toxins emitted by coal-fired power plants, including the nine in Colorado.

According to Harrison, MATS has prevented about 11,000 deaths in Colorado alone and reduced mercury pollution by 59% since 2011. The standards have also saved Coloradans $1.1 billion per year in health benefits since its implementation.

“What happens in D.C. doesn’t stay in D.C.,” said City Councilman Ross Cunniff of the 5th District in Fort Collins and representative of CSU.

Cunniff called for Washington to retain the Clean Air Act and to ensure that the United States continues to keep mercury emissions in the air low. Cunniff explained how mercury has significant negative effects on unborn infants and the developing brain, as well as its effects on the watershed and how the lifespan of mercury in the ecosystem is far too long to not worry about.

Mercury is a heavy toxic metal that can affect anyone. Harrison explained how these rollbacks could have negative effects on those in low-income areas. 

“Rolling back these standards will disproportionately threaten the health of low-income communities and communities of color, as more than 1.8 million Latinx individuals in the United States live within a half mile of an oil or gas facility and 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant,” Harrison said.

Annie Ekblad is a resident of Fort Collins, a mother of a 7-year-old boy and member of Moms Clean Air Force, an organization made up of 1 million moms and dads fighting against air pollution. Ekblad, a featured guest at the press conference, spoke on the concern she and the organization she represents has towards the subject.

“MATS in its current form helps fulfill the obligations the EPA has to the American people to protect our air, water, and our children’s future,” Ekblad said.

She further explained how mercury’s harmful impacts start in the womb when inhaled or consumed by the mother. Mercury concentrates in the developing fetus’s blood and organs, most notably in the brain, disrupting development.

Ekblad went on to describe how children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of mercury, especially when they play outside as they are at a greater risk thanks to their increased exposure.

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“Since these important standards where enacted, we have seen an 81% reduction in mercury pollution nationwide,” Ekblad said. “If this rollback goes unopposed, we can expect more dangerous air toxins to be released unchecked and make our already poor air quality even worse.”

Ekblad said this would also damage Colorado’s natural beauty, and with that, the tourism industry. According to Ekblad, tourism brought in 80 million people last year and the outdoor recreation economy brought in $52 billion to the state’s economy. 

Ekblad also mentioned how, should these mercury levels increase, Fort Collins drinking water could be at risk.

“I want to be able to take my son out to play and experience the majestic beauty of Colorado without worrying if the air he breathes or the water he drinks is going to harm him,” Ekblad said. “It’s time to stop playing politics with our children’s health”.

According to Defend Our Future’s press release, aside from MATS, there was also discussion on the Trump Administration proposing a 31% budget cut to the EPA in 2020, a new addition to the conversation that was announced March 11. 

Another featured guest was Ean Thomas Tafoya, the treasurer and environmental justice chair of the Colorado Latino Forum. 

“Public health is a human right for all of us” said Tafoya. When describing the urgency of the issue centered around the day’s press conference, Tafoya discussed with the audience how important it was that citizens of Fort Collins participate in the conversation. 

Another purpose of the conference was to get interested parties to make comments to the EPA on the MATS rollback. To take part in the discussion and to find out more information, go to EPA.gov. Comments on the MATS rollback can also be made online, and the deadline to comment is April 17.  

Dorina Vida can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @simply_she_.